Stockbridge weighs impact of new police chief contract amid shared-services talks

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STOCKBRIDGE — As town leaders negotiate a contract with their new designated police chief, Sgt. Darrell Fennelly, the option of moving toward a shared-services public safety arrangement with another town remains open.

Selectman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo raised the issue before the Select Board went into executive session on Wednesday to discuss contract details with Fennelly, currently the No. 2 member of the local police force.

Cardillo suggested a one-year term might offer better protection for the new chief, tapped by the three selectmen to succeed Robert Eaton, who leaves April 30 to become chief in Townsend. Once a contract is signed, Fennelly could take over on May 1.

Town Administrator Jorja Ann P. Marsden pointed out that all current and recent personal contracts for open positions contain a provision addressing a shared-services scenario.

Fennelly's prospective agreement states that "during the term of this contract, the town may execute an inter-municipal agreement to consolidate some or all of its safety functions with other towns."

If a shared-services agreement is reached involving police, the contract provision adds, the town may terminate the chief's position with 90 days notice. During that period, the police chief may choose to resume his previous post as a sergeant at the rate of pay he was earning previously, plus any annual increases affecting the department.

Cardillo, also the town's fire chief, noted that a citizens petition is on the annual town meeting warrant for May 16 that would restore a "weak police chief" structure, giving the Select Board more power over the department. In May 1997, the town voted to adopt the new state law enhancing the authority of a "strong police chief" in day-to-day operations.

"How does that affect the contract?" Cardillo asked.

"I believe it doesn't, one way or another," Select Board Chairman Charles Gillett responded. Marsden noted that the "strong police chief" provision of state law governs the terms of Fennelly's proposed contract.

"I know there's a big difference between a weak chief and a strong chief," Cardillo said. "I just want to make sure we're not throwing Darrell under the bus here, that he becomes chief and his powers are gone, and he doesn't like the job. I want it to be fair for everybody, the townspeople, the town."

Cardillo then proposed an initial one-year contract for police chief or any comparable position, with a review before a three-year agreement is offered.

"I had a one-year contract for quite a few years," the fire chief pointed out. Cardillo now has a three-year deal.

"If we were to consolidate this department with another town," said Selectman Stephen Shatz, "the way the contract is drafted, the police chief resumes at his option the right to be a sergeant, so he's protected in that sense."

"Darrell's taking a big step, I think he'll be good at it," Cardillo said. "With a one-year, if it doesn't work for him for any reason or for the town, he's not thrown out in the street. I just wanted to bring that out."

Shatz emphasized that since 1997, all contracts for police chief, as well as for the fire department, have contained the "strong chief" provision.

"I'm not taking sides on strong chief or weak chief," said Cardillo. "I just don't want Darrell caught in the middle of it."

"In any public position, there's always heat, Chuck," Shatz countered, amid chuckles. "Do we have to tell you that, you more than anyone know that."

Cardillo repeated that he's trying to prevent any problems ahead of time for Fennelly.

"He's a big, strong guy," Shatz said, as Fennelly looked on. "He can handle the heat."

At that point, the contract discussion went behind closed doors. Negotiations will continue at another executive session.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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